It is wonderful that Thais will be able to watch all 51 matches live of the Euro 2020 European Football Championship after a deal was struck just hours before the football tournament began on Saturday.
It is also unbelievable that Thais almost lost a chance to watch one of the world's most popular football tournaments for the first time in 33 years. Before the deal was reached, UEFA unveiled the list of countries which have secured broadcast rights to the Euro 2020. People cried foul after they scanned the "T" category and found many countries and territories on the list, including Tahiti, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and Turkmenistan, but no Thailand.
Most other Asean countries also have broadcast rights. Due to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, no one in the private sector came forward earlier to buy the broadcast licence. The government was not interested in intervening because the Euro 2020 is not among seven sports programmes under the "Must Have" rules of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).
In the government's view, missing an opportunity to watch the football games might not be a big deal, compared to vaccines and Covid relief measures. But in the people's view, the games could bring no small measure of happiness amid much scarcity and hardship.
Last week, the issue was raised by some MPs during the parliamentary debate on the government's 500-billion-baht loan decree. Then, miraculously, a deal was made securing the rights within one day.
Aerosoft Summit Footwear chairman Komol Jungrungreangkit emerges as the hero. He has spent $10 million or 310 million baht to secure the broadcast licence for the public to watch all matches for free.
Minister of the Prime Minister's Office Anucha Nakasai said the broadcast is in line with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's policy to bring happiness to the people during these difficult times. He said the Aerosoft Summit Footwear provided the most help to the government in dealing with the licence and paying expenses. From his remarks, we can assume the government asked the company to make a deal for the Euro 2020 broadcast licence and ultimately pay for it.
This raises a question whether there has been any exchange. It is difficult to believe, despite being possible, that the company spent more than 300 million baht out of the kindness of its heart without hope of any return. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch, especially in Thai politics.
Mr Komol is the elder brother of Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit, a key figure in the Palang Pracharath Party's Sam Mitr faction, in which Mr Anucha is a key figure. He is also the father of PPRP list-MP Pongkawin Jungrungreangkit. So, speculation has arisen that there is some political interest will be offered in exchange.
Mr Komol's sole sponsorship comes at the time when the Sam Mitr faction, which has 30-40 MPs under its wing, is said to be falling out of favour with PPRP leader Prawit Wongsuwon. The PPRP will hold a party meeting next Friday in which Capt Thamanat Prompow, the deputy agriculture minister, is tipped to replace Mr Anucha as the party's secretary-general.
Such unsympathetic speculation would not occur if the government really did put the people first. The government had the ways and means to secure a licence itself if it had thought about it. People do not owe the government any happiness from being able to watch the football games. On contrary, it is the government that owes the public for its lack of understanding.